What is a Professional Development Plan
Heidi Zwart
what is a professional development plan

While learning is expected of our children and teens, the same expectation doesn’t always apply to adults. Yet, learning supports both personal and professional life. If you’re a new grad or recently hired by a new organization, you may have heard someone use the term PDP and you may be wondering, what is a professional development plan?

Maybe you’ve heard someone say, “if you don’t know where you’re going, how will you know when you get there?” A professional development plan is the roadmap that will help you get to your preferred future. 

According to Duke’s human resources department, “a professional development plan documents the goals, required skill and competency development, and objectives a staff member will need to accomplish in order to support continuous improvement and career development.”

A professional development plan begins upon hire and is guided by managers. It’s sometimes assumed that PDP’s are only for “problem” employees after there’s been a need for monitoring or performance improvement. But PDP’s are intended to assist professional and career development for the duration of employment.

A good professional development plan has several components. 

Working Document

PDP’s should be revisited regularly and conversations between employee and manager. It’s not a static document, but rather one that can be adapted as needed. Ideally, a formal evaluation will happen during the annual performance review and again mid-year. More ongoing conversations between manager and employee will make these formal review conversations more effective. 


Each employee should contribute to the creation of their professional development plan. A PDP is not intended to be a one-way document dictated from manager to employee, but rather a two-way collaboration. An employee’s self-assessment of their skills, career interests, growth path, and action steps are important elements in a PDP. 

Manager Assessment

While difficult in the early days of an employee’s career with a company, a manager should also be actively involved in assessing a team member’s performance, work history, relational traits, and overall skill evaluation. Because some of this will be a subjective assessment, it’s important to gather feedback that includes objective measures as well. 

Team Fit 

Each department has goals that lead to the success of the organization at large. It’s important that the individual employees in a department contribute to its success. With a PDP in place, a manager and employee are better equipped to continue to meet the goals of the department in a way that contributes to both the bottom line and company culture standards.

Ongoing Learning 

Stipends for professional development are a strong perk when organizations provide them. A manager can encourage attendance at conferences to help an employee meet the objectives of their professional development plan. Other opportunities for development include volunteering in the local community and or contributing to the learning of others in the organization. 

A professional development plan should be a standard expectation for employment. With a better understanding of what a professional development plan is, employees should feel less intimidated by them and more empowered by them. In the end, a well crafted PDP contributes to the success of both employee and employer alike. 

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